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George Gershwin: A New Biography Paperback – August 30, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In this in-depth, well-researched biography, Hyland (Richard Rodgers [1998]) explores Gershwin's complex personality and his pioneering music. He begins with chapters on the legendary composer's youth ("He was, frankly, a bad child who might have become a gangster"), his early days as a song plugger, his musical influences, and his composing and performing of Rhapsody in Blue (first performed by Paul Whiteman's orchestra with Gershwin as the solo pianist in 1924 in New York's Aeolian Hall). Hyland provides fresh insights on how Gershwin forged a link between jazz and the concert hall, new musical trends on Broadway in the 1920s, the composer's life and work in Hollywood, and his place in the pantheon of American music. The author also writes knowledgeably about such famous Gershwin shows as Lady Be Good; Tip Toes; Oh, Kay; Strike up the Band; and Funny Face, among others, and the opera Porgy and Bess. Hyland explains how Gershwin became the first composer to apply popular music to classical forms and how his compositions reflected the restlessness of our country during the Jazz Age. With 14 pages of black-and-white photographs, this is a scrupulous portrait of a musical genius. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"[H]yland brings the scholar's approach. His documentation is superb, and he probes and assesses his sources, attempting to determine what actually happened: for example, the conflicting accounts of Gershwin's final illness. Hyland furnishes details of the life--personal and professional--and does a good job placing Gershwin's achievements in the context of his time….For comprehensive collections serving upper-division undergraduates through faculty." - Choice

"Previously, Gershwin biographers have been either hagiographic or unflattering. Hyland takes the middle of the road, and the Gershwin who emerges is both more complicated and more fascinating….This fresh and well-researched biography of one of America's great composers is highly recommended for all libraries." - Library Journal, Starred Review

"[J]oins the ranks of several fine and industrious authors who have produced estimable efforts….[w]ritten in an accessible style that addresses a wide readership….[i]s a work of significant ambition" - Book Reviews

"William G. Hyland's biography ofsongwriter and composer George Gershwin is a detailed and very thorough one….William G. Hyland's biography of George Gershwin is clearly meant to eclipse the early biographies of the songwriter and to be the definitive one. He corrects the myths and errors about Gershwin in the earlier biographies and replaces them with facts." - Magill Book Reviews

"[A]nyone curious about the new Gershwin scholarship will find this book to be an efficient starting point for further exploration." - The New York Times Book Review

"In this in-depth, well-researched biography, Hyland explores Gershwin's complex personality and his pioneering music….Hyland provides fresh insights on how Gershwin forged a link between jazz and the concert hall, new musical trends on Broadway in the 1920s, the composer's life and work in Hollywood, and his place in the pantheon of American music….Hyland explains how Gershwin became the first composer to apply popular music to classical forms and how his compositions reflected the restlessness of our country during the Jazz Age….a scrupulous portrait of a musical genius." - Booklist, Starred Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger (August 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0313361509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0313361500
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,145,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I ordered this book because I've always liked Gershwin's music & happened to catch the last part of the film Rhapsody in Blue on Turner Movie Classics recently. The book does an adequate job of covering Gershwin's composing career, and indeed most of the chapters are titled according to the major composition discussed. If one is looking for in-depth information about Gershwin himself, his relationships, his family & his interests & activities outside music, the book is less satisfying. For example, one might assume from reading this book that his younger brother Arthur died in infancy as he is not mentioned except for his birthdate. Arthur actually lived to an old age, married, had kids & composed music himself. What relationship he & George had is unknown. Similarly, while Ira's wife Leonore had a part in George's life, she appears haphazardly throughout the book and little about her relationship with George is explored. George was also a painter but that is only tangentially mentioned. There is so much more that could fill out a broader, more in-depth picture of Gershwin. One could also wish for better editing to remove grammar errors & smooth out the repetitious use of some phrases as well as the jerky transitions from one subject to the next. The author's extensive research is evident & the endnotes at each chapter useful. For someone interested in Gershwin's growth as a composer, the book does a creditable job of documenting the major compositions & music events in the composer's life. For more about the man himself, readers must look elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover
I almost didn't finish this biography. The earliest part of the book, given over to a recounting of Gershwin's background and youth, is so stilted and so badly edited that I almost threw it against the wall. There are numerous misprints or typos. For example, lyricist Irving Caesar's last name is spelled three different ways on ONE page, and then the same three different ways again a few pages later. Didn't anyone proofread the book? In the book's second sentence we read that in 1898, the year of Gershwin's birth, the newly consolidated five boroughs of New York City 'encompassed over three hundred acres.' I don't think so; that's less than one square mile! But I persisted, and it got better. I noticed, also, that when the author, a former aspiring jazz trumpeter and then long-time editor of 'Foreign Affairs Quarterly,' was writing about the music itself his style became more graceful and his unbounded love for the subject was obvious. Indeed, his style is down-right perky when he's talking about something he's really interested in. Still, there is a good deal of 'and then he wrote' and extraneous material in the organization of the book.
I am certainly not a Gershwin scholar, but I have read several of biographies and lots of liner notes over the years. Edward Jablonski's Gershwin books remain the best I've seen. Still, I learned some new things in Hyland's book. For instance, I don't recall hearing or reading that Gershwin intended to write a total of 24 piano préludes (presumably like Chopin's Op. 28); he did finish three and apparently had begun a fourth.
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Format: Hardcover
Do we need another new biography of Gershwin? The author makes no strong claims to having written an important book. His introduction is so modest that you get the impression writing this book is a way to fill up the empty hours of his retirement. (He is 75, so no spring chicken.) That said, GEORGE GERSHWIN is scrupulously researched and makes claims for Gershwin's continuing stature within the field of music that pique the interest. Hyland's style isn't really a style per se, but it's serviceable and only gets in the way of his meaning occasionally.

I found Hyland's animus against the film star Paulette Goddard a bit puzzling. Is it because she was married (to Charlie Chaplin) when she conducted her affair with Gershwin? Hyland says that she is "not a reliable witness" as though this were a damning thing to say about someone's character (perhaps for a biographer it is, but for the general public? I don't know). She seems to have brought Gershwin some sexual pleasure and distraction from the illness that eventually killed him, but to hear Hyland tell it, it's almost as though her lying about dates done him in. Give a girl a break, William Hyland! Other than this lack of gallantry I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The text is fine, but thisi paperback has poor reproduction values. Especially on the photographs and images of Gershwin's paintings, much resolution is lost. Compare a home printer about out of ink.
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